Dallas’ own Nasher Sculpture Center proudly opened to the public an astounding exhibition, “Being the River, Repeating the Forest” displaying the sculptures of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone. This retrospective exhibition includes works made from the beginning of his career in 1968 to works created in the last decade. Through his sculpture, Penone investigates the interaction and unbreakable bond between man and nature.
Penone was born in Garessio, Italy in 1947. He studied art at the Accademia di Belle Arte, where he was trained in traditional artistic techniques. Later in his career, he became associated with the school of “arte povera,” an avant-garde movement that originated in Italy during the 1960s. It is characterized by its use of simple, artisanal materials; this was done in order to criticize the increasing commercialization of art and the rise of consumerism.
One of the pieces, “Ripetere il Bosco” (Repeating the Forest, 1980-2014), from which the exhibition partly derives its title, consists of a series of wood sculptures. In them, Penone transforms simple pieces of dimensional lumber into the trunks of pine trees. Through this material, Penone references man’s involvement in processing the wood into a standardized industrial good. By carving the trees out of the wood, Penone evokes the spirit of the tree it used to be. Several of these pieces, standing almost 12 feet high, create a forest-like environment in which the viewer can be immersed in calm reflection.
Another piece on display, “Soffio di foglie” (Breath of leaves, 1979-2015) is also characteristic of Penone’s career, and of the movement of Arte Povera. For this piece, he arranged a pile of leaves inside the gallery space and then lay on top of them in order to leave a silhouette made by the weight of his body. Lying there with his head turned to the side, he exhaled on the surface of the leaves, creating a shape where they were blown away. Penone conveys a sense of the ephemeral: of art, nature and man.
This exceptional exhibition is the first of its kind in over 30 years. The works of Penone have traveled to nearly every continent, but a show like this has not been curated in the United States in over thirty years. Most notably, his work has been exhibited in galleries such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitechapel Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, etc. In 2001, he was awarded the Rolf Schock prize, granted by the Royal Swedish Academy, and he exhibited his work at the Venice Biennale on five different occasions since 1978.
Jed Morse, the chief curator at the Nasher Sculpture Center, explained that the preparations for this retrospective began several years ago when Penone was first invited to exhibit. Morse explained that through this exhibition the development of Penone’s works will become clear to the American public — many of whom will see his works for the first time. Furthermore, Morse said that after seeing this show, people will hopefully come away with an expanded idea of what constitutes sculpture and what it can achieve. It is a unique exhibition that brings the works of an internationally acclaimed artist to the heart of the Dallas community — as an invitation for the viewer to reflect on the relationship between man, art and nature.
“Giuseppe Penone: Being the River, Repeating the Forest” is open to the public from until Jan. 10, 2016. The Nasher Sculpture Center is open Tuesday — Sunday from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed on Mondays. This special exhibition is free with general museum admission (student discount available).